Red Bull's F1 assault has eased pressure on Mercedes, says Wolff

After its run of Formula 1 title successes, you could forgive Mercedes if it felt the pressure of Red Bull’s challenge this year was a bit uncomfortable. 

Red Bull's F1 assault has eased pressure on Mercedes, says Wolff

But despite little separating F1’s top two teams, in a contest that has got quite heated at times, the message coming out of the current world champion outfit is the complete opposite to what you would expect. 

Rather than feel burdened at potentially the biggest threat it has had to its F1 dominance, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the German car manufacturer has actually had a sense of liberation from it. 

For after years of domination, where the team’s motivation to push on was fuelled by the fear of them eventually being toppled from the top, Wolff says that he and his staff have been empowered by being in a fight where it has everything to win. 

Speaking exclusively to Autosport about whether the early season excitement about the challenge had been replaced by increased stress levels caused by Red Bull’s pace-setting form, Wolff said: “It eased off actually, because all these years we had the pressure of: we can't possibly lose.  

“Now it changed to: this is ours to win, because the odds were against us. So there is suddenly an easiness in the approach that starts to take over, which makes it quite enjoyable.  

“Your expectations change. There is no sense of entitlement. This is what we've seen in other sports teams when the expectations are set so high that it becomes even unacceptable to lose.  

“And I think with us, we conditioned ourselves. We set the expectations realistically, and we have just enjoyed the journey of getting us back in a position where we would be able to fight.” 

This season is not the first time during its dominant turbo-hybrid years. that Mercedes has faced a title threat. 

For Ferrari pushed it pretty hard in 2018/2019, when the Italian outfit had made some eye-opening gains with its power unit that would later prove to be a bone of contention with rivals. 

Comparing the pressures of that battle with Ferrari, compared to what Mercedes faces with Red Bull now, and Wolff is clear about when his squad felt most under the cosh. 

“The Ferrari years felt more intense, because I think at that stage, we were so keen in proving that we weren’t a one-hit wonder,” he explains. 

“We wanted to really create a legacy of being the top team for a few years, and now we've achieved that. We have won seven times in a row, which wasn't done in any other sport on a world championship level.  

“With that, suddenly, that easiness came into play. We are still very ambitious and competitive. But the anxiety of losing has lost its edge. We still hate it, but it is less detrimental to your own well-being.” 

New regulation feel

Mercedes W12 floor detail

Mercedes W12 floor detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

One of the defining factors in the closeness of the title battle this year between Mercedes and Red Bull was the change in aero regulations. 

In a bid to cut back on downforce, the FIA made changes to the floor dimensions, which are widely believed to have hurt the low rake cars like Mercedes more than their high rake rivals. 

Looking back at when the reality of that situation hit home, Wolff says that initially the team had felt upbeat that it would claw back the losses. 

“When the regulation change happened [to be agreed] pretty early in the 2020 season, we thought that we can crawl it back in terms of downforce,” he said. 

“But it appears that in relative performance we didn't catch up as much as we thought we could. 

“So we started the season expecting to be catching up, but then obviously we had these early successes.  

“Looking at Bahrain, we probably shouldn't have won the race on pure car pace, but we did. And since the beginning of the season we were always with a slight deficit, apart from maybe Barcelona and Portimao.” 

Wolff says that impact of the floor changes were such that Mercedes had to relearn the car as though it was a season with completely new regulations. 

“I think this year has been for us, rediscovering the sweet spot of the car,” he said. 

“All these years we run the car around a certain configuration, and when suddenly the downforce loss happened on the rear end of the floor, we just needed to rediscover it and find the performance elsewhere. 

“We had good weekends and worse weekends, but for us it was really like starting the season with new regulations: contrary to what some of our competitors had.” 

Red Bull relations 

Toto Wolff, Executive Director (Business), Mercedes AMG, and Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Toto Wolff, Executive Director (Business), Mercedes AMG, and Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The fight between Red Bull and Mercedes has not just been intense on track, for there have been a fair share of battles off it too. 

As well as the politicking over flexi rear wings, tyre pressures and pitstops, tensions between Wolff and Red Bull boss Christian Horner erupted in the wake of comments made following the British GP crash between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. 

Wolff is very clear on one thing: that the flash points between Mercedes and Red Bull may be more down to personal disagreements of the bosses rather than the two entire organisations being at war. 

“It's very important to not generalise Red Bull or Mercedes,” he explained. “It is very much a team sport, and there are individuals involved. 

“Just because certain individuals don't go on well with each other, it doesn't mean that you are disrespecting the other entity and the people that work there, who are trying to do the best possible job in order to fulfil their own dreams and overcome their own worries.  

“So there is always respect for these organisations, and for the people in the organisations, and for the people in the teams.” 

Read Also:

Asked if he was surprised at the way the relations between Red Bull and Mercedes broke down, Wolff said: “The relationships were never splendid, and that comes from the sheer competition that we have.  

“But I would say that in the in the war of words, we have tried to maintain our cool, stay level-headed and not fuel controversy and polarisation among our fans even more.  

“The aim was always to de-escalate. Unfortunately, the opposite happens on the other side.” 

F1’s 2021 battle at the top is far from over yet.  

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, battles with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, battles with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

shares
comments

Related video

The departing figurehead involved in F1's two most dominant teams

Previous article

The departing figurehead involved in F1's two most dominant teams

Next article

How F1's token spend helped charge Red Bull's title push

How F1's token spend helped charge Red Bull's title push
Load comments
The final throes of Brazil's fleetingly successful F1 team Plus

The final throes of Brazil's fleetingly successful F1 team

Emerson Fittipaldi is better remembered for his Formula 1 world championships and Indianapolis 500 successes than for the spell running his eponymous F1 team. Despite a hugely talented roll call of staff, it was a period of internal strife, limited funding and few results - as remembered by Autosport's technical consultant

Why McLaren's expanding agenda will benefit its F1 resurgence Plus

Why McLaren's expanding agenda will benefit its F1 resurgence

In the 1960s and 1970s, McLaren juggled works entries in F1, sportscars and the Indy 500 while building cars for F3 and F2. Now it’s returning to its roots, expanding 
into IndyCars and Extreme E while continuing its F1 renaissance. There’s talk of Formula E and WEC entries too. But is this all too much, too soon? STUART CODLING talks to the man in charge

Formula 1
Oct 17, 2021
How Tsunoda plans to achieve his F1 potential Plus

How Tsunoda plans to achieve his F1 potential

Yuki Tsunoda arrived in grand prix racing amid a whirlwind of hype, which only increased after his first race impressed the biggest wigs in Formula 1. His road since has been rocky and crash-filled, and OLEG KARPOV asks why Red Bull maintains faith in a driver who admits he isn’t really that big a fan of F1?

Formula 1
Oct 15, 2021
The danger of reading too much into F1's clickbait radio messages Plus

The danger of reading too much into F1's clickbait radio messages

OPINION: After Lewis Hamilton responded to reports labelling him 'furious' with Mercedes following his heated exchanges over team radio during the Russian Grand Prix, it provided a snapshot on how Formula 1 broadcasting radio snippets can both illuminate and misrepresent the true situation

Formula 1
Oct 14, 2021
Why F1’s approach to pole winners with grid penalties undermines drivers Plus

Why F1’s approach to pole winners with grid penalties undermines drivers

OPINION: Valtteri Bottas is credited with pole position for the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix, despite being beaten in qualifying. This is another example of Formula 1 and the FIA scoring an own goal by forgetting what makes motorsport magic, with the Istanbul race winner also a victim of this in the championship’s recent history

Formula 1
Oct 13, 2021
Turkish Grand Prix Driver Ratings Plus

Turkish Grand Prix Driver Ratings

On a day that the number two Mercedes enjoyed a rare day in the sun, the Turkish Grand Prix produced several standout drives - not least from a driver who has hit a purple patch of late

Formula 1
Oct 11, 2021
The hidden factors that thwarted Hamilton's bid for shock Turkish GP glory Plus

The hidden factors that thwarted Hamilton's bid for shock Turkish GP glory

Starting 11th after his engine change grid penalty, Lewis Hamilton faced a tough task to repeat his Turkish Grand Prix heroics of 2020 - despite making strong early progress in the wet. Instead, his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas broke through for a first win of the year to mitigate Max Verstappen re-taking the points lead

Formula 1
Oct 11, 2021
How pitstops evolved into an F1 art form Plus

How pitstops evolved into an F1 art form

A Formula 1 pitstop is a rapid-fire blend of high technology and human performance. PAT SYMONDS describes how the science of margin gains makes stops so quick

Formula 1
Oct 10, 2021